Insomnia & Addiction

We all know the difficulty and frustration of functioning on just a few hours of sleep. Having a rough night occasionally is one thing, but the pain of on-going chronic sleep disturbance impacts every aspect of life—work performance, decision making, emotions, mood.

For addicts, insomnia and substance abuse become completely entangled. For some, the use of drugs or alcohol began as they attempted to self-medicate to get relief from restless sleepless nights. For others insomnia developed as a side effect or symptom of drug and alcohol use. Regardless of whether the insomnia came first or was a result of use, drugs and alcohol have an adverse affect on sleep in the long run.

Everyone struggles with lack of sleep sometimes. Insomnia is considered chronic when it occurs at least three nights a week for three months or more. During the natural sleep cycle people go through REM (rapid eye movement) and nonRem (non-rapid eye movement) phases of sleep. During REM sleep, or deep sleep, changes in heart rate, brain activity and blood pressure occur. Dreaming happens during REM sleep, along with muscle twitches and eye movement. 

Substances like alcohol, pain killers (opioids) and sedatives (benzodiazepines)  may provide a temporary feeling of relief from anxiety and depression and allow for some sleep, but in the long term they lead to increased insomnia. For example, despite it’s initial sedative effect alcohol actually disrupts sleep. Alcohol decreases REM sleep in the first part of the night, upsetting the natural sleep cycle.

Tolerance to substances build as the body adjusts to their presence. As a result more of the drugs or alcohol are needed to avoid withdrawal symptoms. This tolerance leads to dependence. Over time lasting changes to the nervous system and body chemistry alter how the body and mind function.

Anxiety, depression and PTSD co-occur with insomnia. They also co-occur with addiction. Once sober, the difficulty of living with insomnia can lead to relapse. In order to achieve lasting sobriety all co-occuring disorders must be addressed. Rather than just treating surface symptoms, deep healing of the underlying causes must happen. 

Multiple resources contribute to lasting healthy recovery. Counseling and therapy—both individual and group—address anxiety, depression and trauma. Biochemical restoration restores natural biological function. Individuals in recovery also learn how exercise, healthy eating, and relaxation techniques can help them sleep well.

Joe Eisele, CACIII, NCAC
Joe is the Clinical Director at InnerBalance Health Center and has been helping achieve lifelong sobriety incorporating biochemical restoration and holistic addiction treatment for over 30 years.